Advice and Support

What is a World Heritage Site?

World Heritage Sites are cultural and/or natural sites of ‘Outstanding Universal Value’, which are important across countries and generations.

World Heritage Sites are cultural and/or natural sites considered to be of ‘Outstanding Universal Value’, which have been inscribed on the World Heritage List by the World Heritage Committee.

These places or buildings are thought to:

  • have special importance for everyone
  • represent unique, or the most significant or best, examples of the world’s cultural and/or natural heritage 

Outstanding Universal Value is considered to transcend national boundaries and to be of importance for future generations.

World Heritage status is a high accolade that brings with it responsibilities and international scrutiny.


The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) seeks to protect and preserve such sites through the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. This international treaty was drawn up in 1972.

Governments of countries that have ratified the Convention (States Parties) identify and nominate suitable sites to the World Heritage Committee for inscription on the list maintained by UNESCO.

Read more about World Heritage Sites on the UNESCO website.

World Heritage Sites in Scotland 

Scottish Ministers are responsible for: 

  • identifying and putting forward sites to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) for nomination 
  • ensuring compliance with the Convention in relation to World Heritage Sites in Scotland

Historic Environment Scotland carries out these roles for cultural World Heritage Sites on behalf of Ministers. 

Cultural World Heritage is in the portfolio of the Culture and Heritage Directorate within the Scottish Government Enterprise, Environment and Innovation Directorate. Natural World Heritage is the responsibility of the Environment and Forestry Directorate

DCMS acts as the State Party for the whole of the UK and is responsible for the UK’s general compliance with the Convention. 

The Scottish Planning Policy requires planning authorities to protect World Heritage Sites and their settings from inappropriate development. 

This includes authorities: 

  • having relevant policies in the development plan 
  • setting out factors to be taken into account when considering development proposals that may affect a World Heritage Site